This article was last modified on April 29, 2007.


Breathing Together, Part 5

Part Five: Ryan: Redemption Through Avoidance

So, there I was standing in the kitchen, resting my palms on the counter top. Still nauseous and weak, my vomit floating in little lumpy pieces within the toilet, and my brother is there at the door with some woman who looks vaguely familiar — but isn’t his girlfriend — and covered in what appeared to be blood. And what does Grant do? He asks me for a shovel. I read something recently about shovels and our loved ones. Let me see if I can recall the words. The phrasing goes something like this — “there are only so many things you can do with a shovel.” And I don’t think my brother was interested in moonlight gardening.

Actually, perhaps the best thing here would be to quote the passage in context, so you can see where I am coming from. The words come from an anthology called On Love, edited by Professor Rimshot Henderson. The following quotation is from none other than the legendary philosopher deSelby, best known for his scientific concepts of light and darkness.

The test for real trust comes in the form of a shovel. Seriously. I am asleep in the middle of the night, resting peacefully after a hard day contemplating the true essence of what it means to be a verb. I am now dreaming thoughts of fractals, when suddenly there is a knock on my door. A little bit frustrated, I go to the door and see [insert name here] standing there in the rain. Without the usual small talk, the visitor asks if I have a shovel he or she may borrow. The test of trust has arrived. If I say yes, I must trust this person more than I trust my own mother. If I say no, my trust in their motives is sketchy at best.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are only so many things a person can do with a shovel. While seemingly innocent enough to ask for one, if you really think about this situation, you know exactly what you might be getting yourself into. This feeling is trust. Ladies, if your boyfriend lets you fraternize with other men, he is doing it because he has to. If he lets you borrow his shovel in the middle of the night – he truly loves you.

Okay, so you can just ignore that last part about the ladies. But you cannot deny how eerily similar this situation described was to my own at this instance. Almost as if the author of the passage and the author of my life were one and the same.

I wasn’t getting myself involved. Do you know why? I was watching Lord of the Rings a few days ago — the second part of the trilogy with the towers. And they have this Gollum character who used to be something like a human, but he was turned into a miserable wretch through The Ring. Now, I know the Ring was a concept Tolkien ripped off from some Richard Wagner opera, but the idea is this — the Ring represents universal temptation. Each person has their own unique desires and particular temptations, and when we give in to them we become obsessed trying to hang on to them until we are eaten up from the inside — as the French say, “all is consumed” (although they say this phrase in French, those elitist froggy bastards). The Ring is power, but power corrupts. In the film, the ring’s power corrupts most literally. I doubt that this is what Sir Francis Bacon had in mind when he said “knowledge is power”, though maybe he just never bothered to think ahead to the next logical step.

Now, there is always the chance for redemption. Some people could try to turn Lord of the Rings into something of a Christian allegory about redemption through Christ, I suppose. Gollum makes a valiant effort to overcome the Ring’s influence over him, not unlike the firm grasp of sin upon the average person. But I don’t think the parable is a Christian story at all — I mean, Wagner turned Christian later on when he wrote Parsifal, but the Ring of the Nibelung is clearly a Teutonic myth. And I don’t personally think that redemption through Christ is the answer. Redemption through woman, perhaps. The power of a woman’s love to make us whole and live to our fullest. Unless we’re a woman, or gay, but I’m not either one so I won’t even pretend to understand that stuff.

But how would I even know about Christ or women? I’m neither Christian nor have I ever been in a relationship. I mean, shit, I’ve spent more time chatting to people in Thailand playing EverQuest and Ragnarok than I have actually conversing with a physical woman; other than my family, that is. I can talk how I like to you (my captive audience), but to a real-life woman? If I ever had to say “vagina” or — heaven forbid — “clitoris” in front of a woman, I’d undoubtedly die of shame. Or worse, I’d giggle like a titmouse. Redemption achieved through EverQuest? Doubtful. Where was I going with this? Just rambling, I suppose.

But sure enough, there was Grant at the back door, leaning against the weathered door frame and looking calmly hysterical. Luckily my little sister was staying over at her boyfriend’s house and my mother was in Milwaukee on business. I’m not too thrilled about this unexpected visit and I’m sure my family would just shit bricks if they were here. Grant has done some stupid shit, but this really takes the taco.

“So, do you have a shovel?” he asked again. He wasn’t adamant or forceful, he was just drunkenly, bluntly honest.

“Um, yeah, in the garage. Pretty sure.” Not that I really know the first thing about tools in general or more particularly tools of the gardening variety. Probably if you compared my implement knowledge to my collected understanding of women and Jesus, the tools would take a distant third.

Redemption through avoidance, that was the answer. Whatever trouble I was getting into I can get my way out of through ignorance. Just don’t ask any questions and assume the best. Or at least that’s what my affidavit will read when I end up in front of the grand jury. Sure, deSelby says that “you know exactly what you might be getting yourself into,” but he’s dead anyway.

We went to the garage, and I opened the door for my brother, as the remote control had broken many years ago and nobody cared enough to address this issue. None of us park in the garage anyway, so I guess even considering possibly, someday, perhaps fixing the damn thing is a waste of thought. We just store all kinds of useless junk in there, like a broken snowblower and various automotive parts that do not match any vehicle this residence has seen in a decade.

I have no idea how incredibly wasted my brother was, but if he were sober he wouldn’t need my help to get a damn shovel. He lived here for how many years, he knew where we kept everything. Probably hasn’t been used or moved once since he left. Grant also knew we don’t lock the doors. He knows Mom wouldn’t even notice if he brought the shovel back within a year or two. Why did he need to inform me? Next time, I’m not answering the goddamn door.

Just then, Grant’s cell phone rang. Some weird song that was calling out, “Girl, I been shaking, sticking and moving tryna get to you and that booty.” Not my sort of music, thank you very much. And getting a phone call now, that is just so great. Like we need anything else to complicate matters.

“Ryan, you have to take this for me. It’s Stacy.” How he knew that without even looking at the screen is beyond me. Does my nonconformist brother customize his ring tones?

“Who’s Stacy?” asked the mystery woman. She was partially curious and partially concerned, but not what you would call overly upset. At this point she could barely even lift her head enough to make eye contact with me and her arm was drooping limply from Grant’s shoulder.

I looked at Grant, he looked back blankly. His thought train had completely derailed from the track, making on-the-spot excuses impossible.

“Who the fuck is Stacy?” she demanded with her most articulately slurred speech, rather wild in her drunken state.

“Stacy? Oh, that’s our sister.” This dismissal was all I could think of.

I answered the phone, and all I could hear on the other end was some deep breathing. The tone was recognizably Stacy, oddly enough, and after a few moments she asked for Grant. Which is rather odd in itself, considering she had directly dialed his phone and you don’t generally ask for the owner of a cell phone.

I spit out the first thing I could think of as rapidly as I was able. “Grant can’t come to the phone right now. He just found out this evening he has AIDS from a botched blood transfusion and is really broken up about it. I’m sorry.” Click.

“What the fuck!? Jesus fuck!? Jumping fucking Jesus on a pogo stick!!! Jesus Christmas! Holy Jesus goddamn! Holy Jesus jumping Christmas shit!” The bloody woman was getting out of hand, and Grant had to cover her mouth with his hand, which I feared she would bite clear through like a rabid wolverine.

“Shh… babe. It’s not true. It’s not true. Ryan, tell her.” Grant was a natural in this nurturing role, which I suppose comes with the territory with a psychotic, untrusting girlfriend like Stacy.

“It’s not true. I’m sorry, it’s been a day. Screw it, I’m going inside.” I had never bothered to throw on a hat or even a jacket, and evolution has been kind enough to rid humanity of any body hair that might actually make living in northeast Wisconsin bearable. In other words, I was freezing my horse-whupping ass off.

I went back to the house, and turned around to see them contemplating which they liked better — the snow shovel or the dirt shovel. Looking back on the situation now, this was December and the weather was less than charming, so maybe they had just driven into a ditch. This was Wisconsin and these things do tend to happen to teenagers and drunks — and drunk teenagers, most likely.

I went inside, found the tapeworm swimming happily — as near as I could tell — in the warm milk. This would not do. I don’t need any more pets, especially ones who are neither cute nor cuddly. I brought the bowl to the toilet, and sure enough I had forgotten to flush. Delicious pieces of McDonald’s cheeseburgers bobbed up and down in the orange water. Okay, so they probably weren’t delicious anymore. And there was that ever-present oddity — the pickle that came out whole. I don’t even remember having pickles. Dumping the parasite into the water, I flushed the little sucker downtown. Not my problem anymore.

Back in the kitchen, I looked out to see the two of them still there, making out like a couple of preteens at the winter dance. Lovey-dovey bullshit makes me sick. Don’t you just hate what happens when people are in love? They’re so happy — so goddamn happy.

I picked up the kitchen phone and dialed my friend Seth. Unlike my brother, I am not popular enough or technologically advanced enough to own my own cellular telephone. For as much of a geek as I am, you would be surprised in the complete lack of gadgets and doo-dads in my possession. A home computer, a 19-inch television and a DVD player, but no mp3 player or DVD burner or anything else that has been common for years now.

“Hey my nigga, what’s up?” This was Seth’s way of answering my calls. Seth, like myself, is clearly whiter than sour cream.

“Hey man, how do you feel about dolphins?” Seth was used to out-of-the-blue questions such as these, so I don’t think this one caught him off guard any more than usual.

“Dolphins are cool, I guess. Unless you are floating on a raft in the Gulf of Mexico, and you think they are sharks or something.”

“Hmmm… yeah, I suppose that would ruin the natural fun of dolphins.” A slight pause, and then, “Follow-up question; how do you feel about dolphins with breast implants?”

“Honestly, man, I don’t think the ladies need that kind of competition.”

“An interesting response, you sick bastard. Clearly you must be spending too much time on dolphinsex.org these days.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to spend too much time on it, really.”

The website, as you might have guessed, was comprised of information on the sexual lives of dolphins. Except that the sexual stories related on this page were not intraspecies but rather interspecies — dolphins that enjoy having sexual relations with human beings. In graphic detail, we were informed how to mate with dolphins and tell if they were attracted to human beings. Not surprisingly, the website has been shut down — though other people have copied the information and you can still easily find this knowledge if you so desire. As for me, I’ll pass.

I decided to continue the line of questioning. “So you think teenage girls would have to compete harder with a dolphin equipped with fake boobs?”

“Duh, absolutely. They’re probably smarter than most girls as it is. If they had bigger boobs than chicks, too… they’d be fucking doomed.”

“Hmmm… you’re one sick motherfucker. But I still have one more dolphin query for you.”

“Yeah? Shoot.” I think Seth was enjoying this evening’s random blather even more than usual, which is either refreshing or disturbing depending on how you look at the situation, I guess.

“If Flipper the dolphin really was ‘faster than lightning’ as the theme song claims, wouldn’t he have better things to do with his time than hang out with some dopey kids? You know, like saving the world? Or at least the watery two-thirds he was capable of reaching via streams and such?” I consider this a perfectly legitimate question.

“Hmmm… I thought he did save the world. Or was it just the local area?” Now we realized that one or both of us doesn’t know the first thing about Flipper.

“He maybe saved the world, possibly, but he seemed to save only like a quarter acre of it, since it was hard for him to leave the tank and all that.”

“It just said he was faster than lightning… which has nothing to do with his common sense or desire to be heroic rather than lazy. He’s probably just speedy at nonsensical things.”

“…or really bad at dolphin sex.” Now we’re tying the conversation together, you see.

“Indeed.” Sometimes one word answers were best.

“I ought to re-examine that theme song. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit.”

“I think you are.”

“Well, I wanted to think he was cooler than that asshat Lassie, but I guess I was wrong.” A slight pause again to switch gears. “So, you ready to go to Bolivia?”

“Why would I want to go to Bolivia?” Seth asked in surprise, meaning I finally jolted his system a bit.

“For the profits, obviously. If I had said in 1849 that we should go to California, you’d be all for it.”

“This is true,” he said, coming to my sense of things.

“You get a lot more for your money in Bolivia, I checked on it. And now is the time to strike before the rush comes and everyone else is cashing in.”

“The rush on what?”

“I have no idea. I just saw it in a movie with Paul Newman, and he’s rich, so it seemed like a good idea. Wherever the hell Bolivia is, that’s where we’re off to.”

“Oh. Well, fuck Paul Newman and his salad dressing. We’re not going to Bolivia.”

“Kid, the next time I say, ‘Let’s go someplace like Bolivia,’ let’s go someplace like Bolivia.”

“Ah, fuck all this bullshit. Let’s go to Perkins, dude.” Click.

Also try another article under Poetry and Fiction
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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